There’s much speculation in the online marketing world as Google preps a series of changes coming to Chrome in February that will severely impact the use of browser cookies. 

Apple already implemented a series of changes to its latest iPhone that make third-party cookies a virtual non-factor. Between the two tech giants, many consider these changes a sign that we’re barreling towards a “post-cookie world.”

For years now, cookies were an essential tracking tool for advertisers to monitor what web users were up to in an effort to know how best to sell to them. Yet, there’s long been concern over how third-party or even first-party entities handled private information, especially without the knowledge or consent of the individual website visitor.

Image result for how a cookie works image

Concern eventually manifested as the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and a host of various adjustments by major tech companies, in the U.S. and elsewhere. Businesses in the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia are scrambling to update their privacy policies as GDPR enforcement goes into effect. As such changes become the standard, the impact of cookies weakens across the Internet. The GDPR already saw the number of third-party cookies on EU-based websites drop by 22 percent, and the trend will only increase over time.

With a post-cookie world quickly approaching, many are asking how the marketing world can hope to thrive without them?

Real-Time Bidding: Not As Reliant On Cookies As It Seems

Despite concerns about cookies, projections show the real-time bidding (RTB) market could grow by as much as 32.9 percent between 2019 and 2024. While it’s possible the Internet moving on from the cookie might negatively affect this trend in the long-run, it likely won’t be by as much as anticipated. After all, RTB relies largely on bidding once someone clicks the link to a website.

Behaviors dictated by the real-time actions of netizens can provide just enough information for advertisers to begin bidding for ad space at that moment. Without the freedom to track the moves of potential customers, advertisers will likely rely on other information to reach them. In such situations, context might become king.

Contextual Targeting Could Give RTB A Massive Boost

Although cookies ruled digital marketing for nearly 20 years, there are instances where it wasn’t necessary or other alternatives presented themselves for getting the most out of ad space. One such alternative is contextual targeting. 

That is, displaying ads based on a website’s content. For example, if a user clicks on a fashion website discussing designer bags, contextual targeting would mean providing ads for designer bag companies. Advertisers are marketing specific products on a specialized website based on the content Internet users are seeking out. 

Perhaps this type of advertising is the best possible reaction to a private, post-cookie internet. Instead of digitally following customers around the Internet, marketers can rely on the targeted content to draw in consumers most likely to react positively to the related ads.

Other Ways To Track Without Cookies

The concept of getting tracked across the Internet was never going to be an easy sell to Internet users, no matter how benign the purpose. Privacy is increasingly a topic of interest and concerns, with more web users than ever turning to VPNs like Express which offer speed and performance, along with non-tracking browsers.

Though advertisers relied on first and third-party cookies a great deal over the years, alternatives existed for a while.

Deterministic Methods: First and third-party cookies were the most desirable deterministic tracking method due to their accuracy, but there are other options available. For example, Etags, which are part of the HTTP protocol, can be used for tracking as well as storing and reading through HTTP requests and responses. Still, the invasive nature of certain deterministic tracking approaches will likely cause these approaches to run into the same regulation roadblocks as cookies.

Probabilistic Methods: The probabilistic approach isn’t as intrusive as the deterministic method. It calls for the use of tools that gather non-personal information such as the operating system, IP address, or location data. If used together, these tools can help to identify users as they move across the Internet without relying as much on methods that are overly intrusive. 

A Greater Emphasis On Placement Targeting Ahead

If cookies won’t be around to tell you what Internet users are doing, advertisers will probably let the context of their website visits lead the way and gather as much information as possible through clicks. That said, marketing to visitors will require making sure that ads appear in the most ideal position possible.

File:Eyetracking heat map Wikipedia.jpg

Placement targeting will prove especially crucial in the coming years as it helps marketers position ads in ways that can lead to clicks and sales. It also means competition among advertisers will heat up for access to the best places for visibility on a website. 

The increased dominance of mobile phone web browsing allows the placement of ads on websites in ways that aren’t as glaring or unattractive as with traditional websites designed for desktop users. It would also be easier to get the attention of website visitors through ads placed between paragraphs or at the bottom of the phone screen.

How Changes Will Impact Website And Content Owners

Although much gets said about how cookie usage impacts advertisers, the shifting landscape also has implications for website owners. This includes non-business websites that rely on ad revenue and use website data to monitor their earnings. For businesses, the fluctuation in revenue might even figure into how products and services get priced. In the post-tracking cookie era, it’s likely that content marketing will play a crucial role in reaching potential consumers.

In addition to placement targeting, websites will prove valuable for providing agreeable content that directs visitors to buy products. This might be done in the form of paid content posts or guest blogging opportunities.

Whatever the case, this is another scenario where, as website users take greater strides to protect their privacy, marketers must rely on website owners and content creators. These groups will play a greater role in providing opportunities to link businesses with potential customers.

The Bottom Line

There’s a world beyond cookies that advertisers must embrace sooner rather than later. Innovations in advertising mean that there are already alternatives to the cookie. Marketers will have to be really smart in testing approaches to find the best way to track potential customers as regulations make the Internet more private.

It seems the most logical approach isn’t to follow around Internet users but to instead approach the websites and platforms they’re most likely to be. Position ads in places these website users will see and trust that relevant content will further spur them to click ad links for products they’re genuinely interested in.

As you can see, the future seems to be one of transparency and mutual communication rather than following behind potential customers to guess at ways to best advertise to them.